Behind The Chic

Jocelyn Moorhouse

Fall movie season is here, and we couldn’t be more excited. One of our “can’t miss” films is Jocelyn Moorhouse’s The Dressmaker, which has three of our favorite things: Kate Winslet, amazing fashion, and Liam Hemsworth. (Not to mention the spectacular Judy Davis…) Set in the 1950’s, in a dusty town in Australia’s Outback, The Dressmaker, is funny, touching, absurd, sad, and satisfying all at the same time. We had a chance to talk to the film’s director, Jocelyn Moorhouse. This is her first film in nearly twenty years- since 1997’s “A Thousand Acres.” She put her blossoming directing career on hold to take care of her children, two of whom had special needs. She’s truly amazing- as funny and direct as her films. We’re glad she’s back.

Introduce yourself: name, age, and occupation.

Jocelyn Moorhouse, 55 years old. I am a writer, director, and occasional producer of movies.

You took a break from directing for a few years. How does it feel to be back behind the camera?

I feel fantastic. Directing is something that has always been in my blood. I have been making movies since I was a teenager; I used to carry around a super 8 camera.  I missed it deeply when I had to give it up for a while because two out of four of my kids had special needs. Obviously, I loved my kids so much, they had to come first. In fact, I used to make little movies with my kids because I found it was a really good way of teaching them, especially the disabled ones, because they were non verbal. So, I never really stopped making movies. I just made movies all about my kids. Of course coming back to making feature films, with The Dressmaker, was amazing. I put all of my movie love into it. I felt like I was back where I belonged and I really enjoyed myself.

What is The Dressmaker about? What drew you to it?

The Dressmaker is about the power of transformation. The movie is about a woman using her creativity to empower herself, get a bit of tasty revenge, and reunite with her long lost mother. It’s about how creativity can save you. I loved that story. And it had a great group of people putting it together and really kick ass crew- a lot of whom are women. One in particular, of course, is Kate Winslet, who plays “the Dressmaker”, Tilly.

The message in the film is about how fashion is transformative. How do you think that translates in real life? How does it play out in the film?

The thing about the dressmakers, particularly in the old days when more people used them, is they could take a woman, no matter what shape she was, and dress her to show off the best of her qualities and hide any flaws that need to be hidden. It gives a woman confidence because you get to dress in a way that you know is going to make you look incredible and strong and beautiful. Of course, it’s transforming because it not only makes you look pretty, it makes you feel strong and powerful inside.

The film is set in the 1950’s. The clothes are gorgeous. How did you research the clothes?

It’s such a beautiful era for clothes. The women, the makeup, the hair: it was just such a feminine, beautiful, voluptuous time. A feast for the eyes. I got a subscription to the Vogue archives so that I could look at every issue they’d done from the beginning. It was so fascinating to learn about Chanel, Charles James, Jacques Fath, Balenciaga, Dior- and all the greats. We had two costume designers. One, Marion Boyce, worked on the creations that we made for all of the other women. Kate Winslet had her own designer, Margot Wilson, with whom she worked closely on her looks, since they were such a part of her character. Margot actually sourced a lot of real vintage pieces; there are quite a few collectors here in Australia that collect extraordinary clothes from the ’50s. She modified them for Kate.

The film has a lot of references to Westerns… especially in it’s theme of vengeance.

It is like a Western- but with a sewing machine instead of a gun.

What do you think the allure of revenge is? Is there anyone you’d want to enact vengeance upon?

Well, that’s a bit personal! I might get into trouble if I answer that! I think every woman- probably every person- has secret desires for revenge on certain people. But because we’re sensible human beings, most of us choose not to go the revenge route. I think there’s always a secret delight in watching stories where someone who was wronged manages to get delicious revenge on those who did her harm.

How important is humor in the film?

I always love movies that are funny and sad, that can make you laugh and make you cry. I’m not afraid of tonal change at all; in fact, I love moving through tonal changes, if I can get away with it. I was trying to be true to the book, which is very dark and very funny at the same time. Australians have got a gallows humor as a people. And, in my life I’ve had highs and lows. I don’t think I could have survived some of the darker periods of my life if I didn’t have the good sense of humor.

What are you working on next?

I am writing a play at the moment. It’s a love story, based on real people and it’s set in the 19th century. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of Clara Schumann? She was an incredible woman. She was married to Robert Schumann, the 19th century romantic composer, and she was extraordinary. In his 20s, he injured his right hand, and couldn’t really perform his own music. He fell in love with this incredible virtuoso pianist, Clara Wieck. She’d actually been a child prodigy. She ended up playing most of his music for him and premiering it. They got married, had 8 children. She was so feminist: she performed which in those days was pretty scandalous. Then Schumann went mad. She had to support him and all the children. Along came this beautiful, gorgeous young creature, Brahms. He wasn’t famous then and she guided him. No one knows for sure if they had an affair. I like to think they did. It’s a bit of a love triangle because Brahms worshiped Schumann, who had been his mentor. It’s a fabulously, wonderful, sexy, sad, romantic, funny piece.

Find out more about where The Dressmaker is playing by going to their facebook page here. The film opens on September 23rd.

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